In Memoriam- Mrs Elizabeth MacFarlan

July 01, 2016 at 3:21 PM

It is with great sadness that we record the passing of Mrs Elizabeth MacFarlan, aged 89, whose funeral was held today in the Chapel of Saint Kentigern. 

Mrs MacFarlan, affectionately known as Betty, holds a special place in the heart of Saint Kentigern College and is fondly remembered as a gentle, caring woman who played an important part in establishing the sense of family within the Saint Kentigern community. As the wife of the founding Headmaster, Reverend Adam MacFarlan, she witnessed more change on campus over the years than any other person associated with Saint Kentigern.

Since the College first opened in 1953, archival records have been diligently kept, recording events and achievements but as many have discovered, when you engaged in a conversation with Betty, all those records only scratch the surface. Much of the real history lies in the personal anecdotes of individuals like Betty and Adam, the early staff and the boys they cared for; those who were here experiencing day to day life as the College took shape on the outskirts of Auckland.

In 2007, a videoed conversation between Betty and Executive Head at the time, Mr Warren Peat, took the viewer back to the early 1950’s when the young MacFarlans left Scotland to take up a new challenge half a world away in New Zealand. There was a sparkle in Betty’s eyes as she spoke of her younger years back in Scotland and how she met the young Adam MacFarlan. When asked what she and Adam knew of New Zealand when the job was advertised, she replied, ‘Well practically nothing really, but my father was a Master in the Donaldson Shipping Lines and he was always at sea travelling around the world. My mother taught us to be independent and it was this spirit of independence, coupled with the spirit of adventure, which made me support Adam’s decision to come to New Zealand.’

It was fascinating to hear Betty’s description of the time when the first Chairman of the Trust Board,Sir William Goodfellow, along with fellow Board Member, Mr Neil Macky, travelled to Scotland to interview Adam at home. The gentlemen wanted to visit the MacFarlans at 9am, ‘Well you just didn’t do that in Scotland! So we managed to put them off till 10am and my mother made some scones. Mr Macky came and interviewed me in the kitchen which I thought seemed a bit strange!’

As Betty went on to point out, in those days you didn’t just book a flight to New Zealand. Adam flew from Glasgow to Ireland, on to New York, then Vancouver and Honolulu before eventually setting foot in Auckland. Betty and the children joined him the following year, travelling by ship. A treasured document in our College Archives is a newspaper clipping with a lovely photograph of the young Betty, recording the arrival by ship of a ‘New Scottish Resident,’ Mrs Elizabeth MacFarlan, accompanied by her small sons Donald and Maitland – to join her husband the Rev AML MacFarlan, Headmaster of a new Presbyterian school in ‘Panmure.’ From that day, Betty played a significant part in this ever-expanding community.

When chatting to Betty, there was no stopping her as she travelled through her remarkable memory for names and faces, and spoke of her life as a wife and the mother of four children, living on campus in the Headmaster’s residence with few neighbours around. ‘When the boarders went home for Christmas, the place was so quiet that we felt like we were living on a big estate of our own.’  She also went on to speak of Adam’s dreams and aspirations for the College and his great sense of humour which helped him to overcome any difficulties he encountered in his career. ‘Adam always spoke about opening the doors of the College for girls, and if he was alive today he would be so happy to have seen this project come to pass.’

The initial conversation between Mr Peat and Betty took so many twists and turns that those listening were in awe of the detail she could recall as she paid tribute to those who had helped establish Saint Kentigern. When talking to the wider community, however, it becomes apparent that Betty, herself, had a significant role to play. Not only was she a wonderful supporter of her husband’s professional life, accompanying him and meeting people at all the special parent occasions and church services, but it was also Betty who was building a new life for the MacFarlan family, themselves, in a new land far from home with all that entailed!

At the time, not only did Betty have her own four children to care for but she also had great fondness for her extended family of boys, especially the early boarders. ‘The boarders were, without exception, from the country and the country was a long way away in those days. They were dead lonely some of those boys.’ Betty took it on herself to make sure they felt part of a family. She would invite them down to share some chores in the garden, staying on for morning tea and a chat. So many boys remember her great kindness to them in those early years.

In later years, after Adam passed away, Betty remained a frequent visitor to College taking part in many of the formal occasions and festivities. In readiness for the arrival of the girls on campus in 2003, the Elizabeth MacFarlan Centre – the EMC – was opened, named in her honour. She returned again, ten years later in 2013 to open the MacFarlan Centre, the then new administration block named in memory of Adam.

One of Adam’s dreams became reality in 1972, 20 years after his arrival, with the completion and consecration of the Chapel of Saint Kentigern with its motto, Fides Servanda Est – The Faith must be Kept. To farewell Betty in our Chapel had special significance. Betty will be remembered as one of the builders of this community, but more than that, as a woman of faith and adventure, who built her own life in a new community and country. We remember her love for her family, her generosity of spirit, and her life of service to others.



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Click on the image to read the full clipping
Click on the image to read the full clipping